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Dublin: 8°C Thursday 22 October 2020
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Wales hold Ireland to another goalless draw

An understrength Irish side, weakened by Covid-19, showed more signs of encouragement but again failed to score.

Enda Stevens with Harry Wilson.
Enda Stevens with Harry Wilson.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 0

Wales 0

0-0 IS THE new 1-1 and the bare facts are unfriendly again.

This was a fourth game under Stephen Kenny without a win, a third without a goal and a result which leaves Ireland five points from Wales at the top of the Nations League group and the hope of bagging a backdoor route to a play-off for the World Cup. 

The context tells a different story: Ireland’s preparations were smithereened by losing five players – four of them likely starters – to a Covid case the morning of the game, compounding the prior loss of James McCarthy and David McGoldrick to injury. 

They then lost a centre-back to injury midway through the first half and James McClean to a late red card, and yet Ireland played all the football and the game’s few chances were theirs. 

This may be the day Irish football went fully postmodern: the staging of the game proved to be far more dramatic than the game itself, with the soporific first 20 minutes a balm on a convulsive morning. 

 

kevin-long-leaves-the-field-due-to-an-injury Kevin Long leaves with injury. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A manager taking employment at the FAI has often been a retelling of the Book of Job in boots and tracksuits and Stephen Kenny today endured enough strife and misfortune to compare favourably with many of his predecessors. 

First he learned five players were out because of a positive Covid case in the squad. The Covid-positive player was out, of course, with John Egan, Alan Browne and Callums Robinson and O’Dowda stood down as close contacts as they were sitting less than two metres from him on the flight home from Slovakia. 

Then Kenny learned he was missing Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah for no good reason: the test that isolated them from the squad on Thursday turned out to be a false positive.

The FAI have managed to engineer fraught dysfunction from logistics and procedure over banalities in peace time, so perhaps it was to be expected they would find their own spin on drama in a pandemic. The issue likely to be at stake from now to the flight to Helsinki on Tuesday is whether the squad’s testing “bubble” precludes the need for physical distancing on the plane. 

Outgoing CEO Gary Owens got out in front of the issue ahead of the game, giving a clatter of interviews in which he said issues around seating on the plane are a “red-herring”, and told Off the Ball that physical distancing onboard would mean chartering four planes, a burden too heavy for the FAI’s fragile finances. 

Perhaps Kenny will have to accept he’s been dealt a larger share of the misfortune general across European football at the moment. 

And so today he was five men short of a full matchday squad, and then found himself further forsaken when Kevin Long traipsed off with an eye injury midway through the first-half. 

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He was replaced by Cyrus Christie – who himself replaced Seamus Coleman because of a hamstring strain that feels as if it was suffered several centuries ago – forcing Matt Doherty shuffled across to become an emergency centre-back, where he excelled. 

james-mcclean-receives-a-red-card-after-colliding-with-ethan-ampadu James McClean is sent off. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Moments later, the conspiring fates finally relented. Darren Randolph clumsily dropped a cross in the box and barged Ethan Ampadu to the ground as he tried to regain it, for which the referee mystifyingly decided was a free-out. In truth it would have been larceny for Wales to be ahead at the break: their first-half performance was dreadful and their preparation was, by Irish standards, serene. 

Ireland could be happy with theirs: Jayson Molumby was effervescent in midfield, a hunched, marauding figure who showed a rare ability to beat his opponent in midfield. If there’s a criticism of his first-half performance, it is he occasionally failed to play the killer pass through the space he created.

Robbie Brady was Ireland’s other stand-out performer, and he flashed a curling shot from the edge the box narrowly wide in what was the best Irish chance in the first half. 

A much better chance presented itself soon after the break, with Shane Long heading over the bar from six yards, picked out by Enda Stevens’ terrific cross. This was Long’s first start for Ireland since October 2018, and he should have marked it with a goal. 

He and Brady made way for a couple of Kenny’s Dundalk alumni in Sean Maguire and Daryl Horgan, and the latter made an instant impact. First he fizzed a ball along the box which Molumby was caught ahead of, and minutes later flashed a shot over the crossbar having seen his header hacked half-clear in front of the line. 

Then, eight minutes from time, Kenny had to roll with another punch. James McClean, having been booked five minutes earlier, was fouled but threw himself into a follow-up on Ampadu, for which he was booked again and sent off. 

Ireland defended diligently for the closing minutes to eke out another draw against admittedly wretched opposition. 

The failure to score yet again notwithstanding, this was another goalless draw with plenty of positives. Albeit one too many. 

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy (captain), Kevin Long (Cyrus Christie, 25′), Enda Stevens; Conor Hourihane, Jeff Hendrick; Robbie Brady (Daryl Horgan, 73′), Jayson Molumby (Josh Cullen, 89′), James McClean; Shane Long (Sean Maguire, 73′)

Wales: Wayne Hennessy; Connor Roberts, Joe Rodon, Ethan Ampadu, Ben Davies; Joe Worrell, Matthew Smith (Dylan Levitt, 66′); Daniel James (David Brooks, 76′), Aaron Ramsey, Harry Wilson (Neco Williams, 66′); Kieffer Moore 

Referee: Anastasios Sidiropoulos (GRE)

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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